By Prem Calvin Prashad
Accusing the federal government of “playing games with immigrant rights” and making a “political decision,” the Nepali community in Queens slammed the Trump administration’s decision to end the Temporary Protected Status for Nepali nationals.
Hosted by the Queens-based immigrant advocacy group Adhikaar, some 100 people gathered at the Satya Narayan Mandir, located at 75-15 Woodside Ave., to discuss the implications of the end of TPS, as well as commemorate the devastating earthquake that promoted the federal government to offer TPS protections.
The gathering was held April 25 on the three-year anniversary of the devastating earthquake that blasted Nepal and the eve of the determination to be made by DHS
On April 25, 2015, the mountainous country of Nepal was struck by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake, which killed nearly 9,000 people and caused widespread devastation. In Nepal, one of Asia’s poorest countries, estimates place the damage to be equal to 50 percent of the country’s GDP. Consequently, the Nepali government was overwhelmed by the scope of the catastrophe, with almost 600,000 homes destroyed.
In response, the United States grated Temporary Protected Status, a policy that protects people from deportation to countries that have become unsafe to avoid life-threatening circumstances. About 5,000 Nepali citizens, many living in Queens, are TPS recipients. The status must be renewed periodically and the most recent renewal occurred on Dec. 26, 2016. The policy was in place for several Central American and Caribbean countries that have suffered natural disasters, but under the Trump administration, the Department of Homeland Security has opted not to renew these protections, putting thousands at risk of deportation.
Previously, the Trump administration ended longstanding TPS protections for Honduras and Nicaragua, leaving individuals who had been in the country since 1998 at risk of deportation. This revealed an underlying flaw in TPS, whereas subsequent administrations had failed to provide a lasting solution to legalize the statuses of these individuals. Similarly, Nepalis in the United States are now told by the Trump administration to prepare for imminent deportation.
The gathering struck a defiant tone — many in the community acknowledged they feared retaliation for speaking out. Many blamed not only the federal government for its inaction, but also the Nepali government for failing to advocate for them and, at a minimum, to secure an extension against the deportation deadline, as has been the case with Haiti and El Salvador.
Many of the speakers, in their native Nepali, noted that the community had organized itself and felt abandoned by both the Nepali government as well as the Nepali-American community. Representatives from City Councilman Daniel Dromm’s (D-Jackson Heights) office, as well as the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs were present, with the latter pledging to make its materials available in the Nepali language.
Prior to becoming a TPS recipient, one community member, Ramba Regmi, tearfully described having been undocumented in the United States for 15 years. Since receiving protection, the former nail salon worker has been able to open a nail salon of her own, but now must prepared to possibly lose it all and be sent back to Nepal. TPS recipients such as Regmi are able to live safely and also get work permits, pay taxes and send money home to devastated regions. Many Nepali TPS recipients are working to support displaced family members.
Adhikaar charges that the end of TPS is premature and that just 13 percent of homes have been rebuilt. The Catholic Legal Immigration Network has noted extensive delays in rebuilding and continued utilization of temporary shelters for displaced people in Nepal, with the organization estimating 2.8 million people are displaced. Subsequent disasters have also complicated the rebuilding effort.
Adhikaar and their supporters demand an immediate extension to TPS, as well as a lasting legislative solution. Acknowledging that many TPS holders have established lives in the United States, one such solution, the American Promise Act of 2017, proposed by U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-Brooklyn), would allow TPS holders to apply for lawful permanent resident status.